Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect? CNN And John King Take A Twitter Shellacking After Hasty Report

CNN and its veteran correspondent John King are taking a beating on social media Wednesday following a chaotic volley of back-and-forth reports surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings.

CNN reported Wednesday afternoon that a suspect in the bombings had been arrested, a report the Boston Police Department has since denied.

The story is still developing and updates are available here.

Both “CNN” and “John King” became trending topics as King backtracked from the report, during which the anchor seemed to turn hostile toward his sources. “Part of this reflects on us but also on the people" CNN talked to, King said in a comment that attracted further derision.   

Not surprisingly, a bevy of unforgiving Twitter journalists lambasted the Turner Broadcasting-owned cable network, a unit of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX), for jumping the gun with unverified information. Some reporters, like ABC27's Megan Healey, drew a comparison to CNN’s reporting on the Sandy Hook school shooting. In December, CNN, along with the Associated Press and other outlets, initially identified Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan as the shooter.

The Ryan Lanza story had supposedly served as a cautionary tale for trigger-happy, you-heard-it-here-first journalism in the age of Twitter, but judging from the confusion unfolding on Wednesday, the lessons learned from that debacle were not retained.

Following CNN’s report, some Twitter users posted screenshots of network’s website, which had declared, in all caps, a “Boston Breakthrough.” The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz did the same with a screenshot of CNN’s on-air report.

Amid the streams of CNN-aimed outrage and snark, Twitter’s Drunk Hulk probably summed it up best:

In the meantime, the FBI joined the fray of media scolding with a harsh statement of caution aimed at trigger-happy reporters.

“Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

The inaccurate Boston Marathon report is no minor screw-up for Jeff Zucker's CNN 2.0. In comparison to its rivals -- Fox News and MSNBC -- CNN's ratings are still not much to brag about. But if nothing else, the middle-of-the-road cable network prides itself on being a trusted destination for accurate breaking news, and, indeed, it often pummels its rivals during major news events.  

To add insult to Wednesday's injury, CNN’s King is also taking heat for his description of the supposed suspect as a “dark-skinned” male: “I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things,” he said. “I was told by one of these sources, who is a law enforcement official, that this is a dark-skinned male.”

The comment provoked a stream of criticism and snickers, and even a possible off-handed threat by the hacker collective Anonymous.

Got a news tip? Send me an email. Follow me on Twitter: @christopherzara

Join the Discussion